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Published: 11/10/2009

Bell joins critics of dog warden

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo mayoral candidate Mike Bell announced Friday that he is outraged over the high number of dogs killed at Lucas County's pound and demanded that county commissioners suspend the dog warden if he doesn't take steps to change.

Lucas County is believed to have one of the highest dog euthanasia rates in the state, with nearly 80 percent of all dogs taken in ultimately put down. The agency reported euthanizing 2,483 dogs last year under long-serving Dog Warden Tom Skeldon.

"There are too many dogs being killed, and too little policy and procedure to govern operations," Mr. Bell said during a news conference at his campaign headquarters. "This is not an attack against Tom. It is proactive action to make sure we are protecting pets."

Mr. Bell said he was angered by the findings of a county dog warden advisory committee, whose members this week publicly criticized the warden's office for lacking standard operating procedures for euthanasia, medical treatment, tranquilizer darting, and other routine matters.

The group's chairman also chided the agency for killing too many dogs while adopting out too few. The committee left commissioners with an initial set of four recommendations aimed at improving operations at the warden's office.

Just more than 7 percent of dogs emerged from the pound last year through adoption. Another 14 percent were ultimately reclaimed by their owners. The remaining animals were euthanized by chemical injection and incinerated on site.

Mr. Bell called on the commissioners to demand from Mr. Skeldon an "action plan" within 10 business days detailing how he will address the committee's recommendations.

"If he fails to deliver, he should be suspended while the commissioners look for a replacement," Mr. Bell said.

Mr. Skeldon, who has served as dog warden since 1987, has been asked by county officials to not comment to the media regarding his job. "He is not at liberty to say anything," an assistant in the warden's office said.

The recently formed Ohio Coalition of Dog Advocates is to hold a candlelight vigil at 7 p.m. tonight outside the county pound, 410 South Erie St., near downtown Toledo. The vigil will pay respect to every dog killed at the pound and is expected to draw dog lovers from throughout the state, member Dan Grove said.

Mr. Grove said he too was outraged by this week's revelations that Mr. Skeldon runs his office without formal protocols.

"They just do it by the seat of their pants - by their mood - and it just results in a travesty for dogs in Lucas County," Mr. Grove said.

Mr. Grove said the vigil grew out of last year's petition effort by a local group of pet owners and allies, 4 Lucas County Pets, who claimed 3,000 signatures in their quest to see Mr. Skeldon fired.

Mr. Skeldon kept his job, but became the subject of a public hearing that fall arranged by county Commissioner Ben Konop. Removing the dog warden would require cause for dismissal.

Mr. Konop also led the creation of the current 11-person dog warden oversight committee.

Yesterday, Mr. Konop said he long has been concerned about the pound's high euthanasia and low adoption rates, and would like to see the committee directly address those matters and set targets in future recommendations.

If the dog warden should then fail to meet those targets for adoption or lowered euthanasia, Mr. Konop said he would support replacing him.

"There has been a lack of seriousness in addressing this issue and a lack of urgency," he said of the shelter's high kill rate.

Mr. Bell, who is running as an independent, also used the dog warden issue to attack his opponent in the race for mayor. He accused endorsed Democrat Keith Wilkowski of having links to "a cadre of highly placed insiders" who have protected Mr. Skeldon by shielding the dog warden for years from accountability.

Mr. Wilkowski said in a written response that Mr. Bell's attempt to link him to the county dog warden "goes beyond desperate and into the realm of the bizarre."

He added, "Whether through a change in policy or a change in personnel or both, the operation of the dog warden's office must become more humane. It is the responsibility of the commissioners to act swiftly on the committee's recommendations."

County Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak, a first cousin to the dog warden, said commissioners are already a step ahead of Mr. Bell's call for a 10-day deadline. The commissioners are to respond to the committee's recommendations on Tuesday, or seven days after its presentation.

However, the committee's recommendations do not require Mr. Skeldon to submit a compliance action plan such as that demanded by Mr. Bell.

Although not a dog owner himself, the former fire chief said he has many friends, family members, and neighbors who are.

"For a lot of people having a pet is a quality of life issue," Mr. Bell said.

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com

or 419-724-6065.



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